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College Sports

Reeling Hawkeyes host improved Minnesota

IOWA CITY (AP) — Few things have bothered Iowa more over the past two seasons than losing the “Floyd of Rosedale” trophy to Minnesota and then failing to win it back.

The struggling Hawkeyes have a lot more than a bronze pig to worry about right now.

Iowa (2-2) hosts the unbeaten Gophers (4-0) on Saturday. The matchup has taken on even meaning for the Hawkeyes in the wake of last weekend’s collapse against Central Michigan.

Iowa gave up nine points in 45 seconds and lost at home, 32-31, for the second time in three weeks. The feeling among increasingly frustrated Hawkeyes fans is that the entire season could collapse with yet another loss to the rival Gophers.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz gets why the public is so upset. But he also knows that his players can’t dwell on the grumbling from the fans.

“If I was just a fan at home, I don’t have to get ready for Minnesota. So all I’m going to do is think about all the 300 things that we did poorly Saturday. And that’s sports. It’s always been that way,” Ferentz said. “We have to move on. If we don’t move on, we’re going to pay for it this Saturday.”

The Hawkeyes have dropped back-to-back games to Minnesota teams they weren’t supposed to lose to.

That wouldn’t be the case in 2012.

The Gophers are off to their best start since 2008 despite losing starting quarterback MarQueis Gray to a left ankle injury. Sophomore Max Shortell stepped in and completed 16-of-30 passes for 231 yards in a 17-10 win over Syracuse last week.

But the biggest reason Minnesota is undefeated is an improved defense. The Gophers are 30th in the nation is points allowed at just under 17 a game — over 14 points better than what they finished with in 2011.

Minnesota’s non-conference schedule was hardly filled with offensive juggernauts. Still, the Gophers held three of their first four opponents to 13 points or less in regulation and capped it off with a strong effort against the Orange.

“I thought we played more physical than we have since we have been here as a coaching staff,” said Kill, who took over the program before last season. “I want to see more of that.”

Iowa’s defense was solid until last week, when it let up 23 points in the first half and broke down late by allowing Central Michigan to drive for a touchdown and the game-winning field goal.

The Hawkeyes have been shaky in the passing game all season, with just one TD pass so far from senior quarterback James Vandenberg. But Iowa has found something of a savior in the running game in walk-on sophomore fullback Mark Weisman, who has 330 yards and six touchdowns in just two weeks.

Iowa starter Damon Bullock might not be ready to play Saturday as he continues his comeback from a head injury. But should Bullock return, the Hawkeyes are hoping the combination of the bruising Weisman and the slashing Bullock will give them a 1-2 punch that can help kick start a languid offense.

“We’re really blocking people well right now,” Vandenberg said. ‘Those guys are running hard behind them.”

Iowa’s last two outings against the Gophers, both on the road, were among the more bitter defeats the Hawkeyes have suffered under Ferentz.

Iowa went up to Minneapolis in 2010 at the end of a very disappointing regular season that only got worse when it lost to the 3-9 Gophers 27-24. Last season, Iowa looked lost on a late onside kick that Minnesota recovered to set up the winning touchdown.

The Gophers have taken great pride in hanging on to Floyd, one of the nation’s more iconic rivalry trophies.

“We love keeping him around, and hopefully it’ll stay that way,” Minnesota offensive lineman Caleb Bak said of Floyd.

Iowa will get the Gophers on their home turf for the first time since it clinched a BCS bowl bid with a 12-0 win in 2009. But the Hawkeyes also knows this Minnesota team is better than the ones that beat the Hawkeyes in 2010 and 2011.

“All you have to do is just watch them play on film. They’re playing well. They’re playing with confidence. They’re playing fast,” Ferentz said.

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